The Paris Commune (March-May 1871) is very present in the political imagination of the left, but ultimately little known to the general public. It comes at a difficult time in French history, with the defeat of 1870 and the fall of the Empire, but it is also fundamental as such. Beyond the unfolding of events and their place in the military and political context, we should also focus on the motivations of the actors of the Municipality, which the work of Yves Barde, Understanding the Paris Commune (Éditions Ouest France, 2011), aims to do something beyond the passions that this subject often arouses.
"Find a reliable relation of events"
In his foreword, and throughout the book, Yves Barde (former gendarme, specialist in military history), insists on the difficulty of dealing with a subject which unleashes so many passions, obviously political, and puts back to back supporters and opponents of the Commune among the sources that can be used, illustrations included. Caution is therefore essential in the treatment of these sources, but after all it is the lot of any historian's work. We still feel the author's desire to make a neutral and impartial book on the Municipality. Does he succeed?
A chronological approach
The Municipality obviously arises from a context. The author therefore goes back to the origins, the war of 1870, summed up soberly in a few pages, before dwelling more at length on the siege of Paris, decisive in the motivations of the Commune. The strictly chronological tool, day by day, and almost hour by hour, including when approaching the birth of the Commune, is very practical for understanding the chain of events and the chain of events, up to "The end of the Commune", his last (short) chapter.
The author nonetheless makes a few detours, presenting the main players for example, or not hesitating to leave the capital a little to compare the situation with the province. He also regularly analyzes the different iconographic media he uses. We also note that he devotes a long part to "The situation in prisons", which he believes they played "An essential role during these events", mainly the reprisals of the Communards and the use of hostages. There, while he never ceased to claim a distance from the sources, Yves Barde almost exclusively uses the work of an anti-Communard, Maxime du Camp, to describe what happened in the prisons with hostages. Even if it specifies the orientation of its source and warns against "The excessive exaggeration [of du Camp], inevitable given his own feelings", we may be surprised that he gives it so much space, just like in these episodes, if not to insist on what is one of the “dark faces” (the term is ours) of the Commune ...
Notice of History for all on Understanding the Paris Commune
As with the other volumes in this collection, Yves Barde's work offers an impressive iconography, perfect for immersing yourself in the atmosphere, and for understanding how the image could have been used as a propaganda tool at the time. The appendices are somewhat curious choices given the subject: two articles of the decree of March 29, 1871 on civil servants, and especially the organization charts of the armies present, as well as two texts taken from the work of Maxime du Camp, The convulsions of Paris. As for the bibliography, it is perhaps a little succinct.
If the chronological choice is good for situating the context and the course of events, it does not really allow us to understand the motivations of the actors, and especially the essence of the Municipality, the political ideology, its roots which plunged into the French Revolution. , and his posterity. All of this is mentioned too quickly, and the author prefers to put back to back the violence of each camp, and rather to make a military history of the Commune. Pity.
- Y. Bard, Understanding the Paris Commune, Ouest France editions, 2012, 128 p.